It’s anti-Muslim racism, not Islamophobia

“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)

Protester holding a sign in Washington, D.C. Original caption: Sept 15 2007 March and Rally, Member of the counter protest Gathering of Eagles, yelling "Defeat Jihad" and "Traitor", while standing on Pennsylvania Ave, in front of the Justice Dept in Washington DC. He was yelling at the tens of thousands anti-Iraq War demonstrators. (Wikimedia Commons)

Protester holding a sign in Washington D.C. during an anti-Iraq War demonstration, September 15 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)

Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class.

Racism entails a process of signification, or racialisation: identifying an assumed ‘racial’ difference, be that somatic and/or cultural, as significant and denoting such difference with characteristics and consequences that are negative. The difference that racism signifies is related to what we might understand as ethnicity: to common geography, familial heritage, and socio-cultural make-up (sometimes national, sometimes religious, and sometimes both); whose expression is indicated through somatic difference, such as hair and skin colour, and/or cultural difference, like language, food, beliefs and practices, and clothing. In the case of anti-Muslim racism the signifier of religion connects up with geography, ancestry, and socio-cultural constitution, and difference is seen somatically and culturally.

As a second generation British Indian, born into an extended Jatt Sikh family, I have a specific perspective on anti-Muslim racism. Anti-Muslim racism is a potent ideology in India and across the global Indian diaspora. Moreover, it is a racism that has proven to be compatible with post-9/11 and Brexit and Trump-era racism. Why? Because of a commonly signified and racialised ‘Muslim Other’. The crux of this ideology is not a theological critique but rather a fusing of religion with the idea of a group of people as a biological and cultural ‘race’ apart and below. This racism denotes Muslims as inbred, degenerate, and unclean, and as a dangerous and violent threat to one’s own purified existence. It should be of no surprise then that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) have savvily attuned to this current of anti-Muslim racism within the Indian diaspora – courting Sikhs as an exemplary and assimilatable ‘race’ above the ‘Muslim Other’. The footage of a speech by a UKIP MEP (see below) arguing in defence of the Sikh religious and racial right to wear the kirpan positions Sikhs as fighters for democracy. This should be understood in its historical, racialised context. During the British colonial Empire, the British ruling class divided the population of India into martial and non-martial ‘races’, of which the Sikhs (particularly Jatt Sikhs) were designated as the former.

British India Sikh soldier, 1898 (Wikimedia Commons)

British India Sikh soldier, 1898 (Wikimedia Commons)

Sikh soldiers, 1846, Illustrated London News (Wikimedia Commons)

Sikh soldiers, 1846, Illustrated London News (Wikimedia Commons)

2014 UKIP candidate Sergi Singh (Hull Daily Mail)

2014 UKIP candidate Sergi Singh (Hull Daily Mail)

Similar to UKIP’s courting of Indian diaspora Sikhs is Trump’s courting of Indian diaspora Hindus during his presidential election campaign and his appeal to Hindu nationalists in India: here in common is the racialised enemy of the ‘Muslim Other’.


“The whole world is screaming against Islamic terrorism, and even India is not safe from it. Only Donald Trump can save humanity!” – Hindu Sena (quoted in the US far right newspaper Breibart)


“I love Hindu!” – Trump at a pre-election US Hindu rally (DNA India)

The anti-Muslim racism of the global Indian diaspora owes much of its origins to Hindu nationalism. Chetan Bhatt (2000), in an article titled “Hindu Nationalism and Indigenist ‘Neoracism’”, explains how Hindu nationalism accommodates what it considers a sect of Hinduism, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, while it otherises Muslims. Bhatt (2000: 577) expounds:

“the birth of contemporary Hindu nationalism is usually traced to, and just after, the inter-war period, from 1916-25; during which two organisations, the Hindu Mahasabha (The Great Assembly of Hindus) and its ‘semi-rival’, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the National Volunteer-Servers Organisation) were formed. Hindu nationalism’s key, but by no means only ideologue was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an anti-colonial revolutionary hero and founder of the Mahasabha, who in 1923 presented the novel idea of Hindutva, the essence or ‘beingness’ of a Hindu. Hindutva was a hereditarian conception, born from the time the intrepid Aryans entered India and whose ‘blood commingled’ with that of the original inhabitants of India. For Savarkar, a Hindu could be defined as someone who considers India as their fatherland, motherland and holyland and ‘who inherits the blood of that race whose first discernible source could be traced back’ to the Vedic Aryans (Savarkar 1989: 115). Savarkar’s formulation of Hindutva considerably influenced Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, formed in 1924) as well as Madhav Golwalkar, the RSS’s second leader. Golwalkar extended strands of Hindutva to develop an extraordinarily modern, Nazi-like racial idea of Hinduness […].”

Contemporary Hindu nationalism (as propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and its parent organisation, the RSS):

“undertakes the familiar metaphoric substitution of the nation by the idea of the national, or social or human body; conversely minorities, especially Muslims, are seen as a polluting presence within that body. Consequently, Hindu nationalism is dangerously obsessed with Muslim demography, reproduction and fertility (see, for example, Lal 1990).” (Bhatt 2000: 580)

An example of this is the Hindu fundamentalist theory of Romeo Jihad or Love Jihad, which claims that “Muslim men seek to wage jihad by making Hindu women fall in love with them and marry them, so as to covert them to Islam” (Dixit, 2017).

Love Jihad

Love Jihad

A parallel can be drawn between Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ and the legislative moves by the Indian government in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016; in this, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan – unlike their Muslim counterparts – are no longer identified as illegal migrants but rather as suitable for naturalisation as citizens of India (Mitra, 2017).

The anti-Muslim racism that is rampant across Europe and the United States, and which finds an easy alliance with Hindu nationalists in India and with a current of Sikhs and Hindus in the global Indian diaspora, is a racism based on the ideas of a purified (racialised) nationality, an advanced (racialised) civilisation, and a natural (racialised) social order. It is not Islamophobia, it is racism – old and new.


Bhatt, C (2000) “Hindu Nationalism and Indigenist ‘Neoracism’”, in L Back and J Solomos (Eds) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge, 573-593.

Gurdas Maan’s incongruous bemoaning of a forsaken world

“It is as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse)

“More than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from India’s population in three generations, through the gender-specific infliction of violence in various forms, such as female feticide through forced abortions, female infanticides, dowry murders, and honor killings.” (50 Million Missing Campaign)


MTV Coke Studio India’s production of “Ki Banu Duniya Da” (“What is to become of our world?”) in 2015 – a reworking of an original song by Pakistani singer Sarwar Gulshan that was made popular by Gurdas Maan in 1982 – has been a huge success, both in India and across its global diaspora. To date, it has had almost 10 million views on You Tube and ranks as the most popular iTunes download from the Coke Studio India and Pakistan catalogue. In this latest version, new and revised lyrics have been added by Gurdas Maan to make the song relevant to the present-day.

Gurdas Maan is the Elvis of Punjab – a longstanding and successful, traditional Punjabi folk singer. With the population of Punjab at almost 28 million, the Punjabi diaspora of approximately 10 million is significant. In one sense, Punjab is at the nexus of globalisation and, in another sense, it is embedded within globalisation through its twentieth century history of emigration around the world. Gurdas Maan’s net worth is an estimated $50 million; in other words, he is a major individual beneficiary of the globalisation of Punjab – savvily and lucratively riding its contradictory waves. It is somewhat incongruous then that, in a global-glocal capitalist MTV production of “Ki Banu Duniya Da”, Gurdas Maan romanticises a localised idyllic past and seeks to return to this past in order to save Punjabis from the perils of globalisation (whilst, I assume, keeping his profits firmly in his pocket).

In the opening verses of “Ki Banu Duniya Da”, these are the words of wisdom on gender and sexual relations that Gurdas Maan sings:

In today’s times, romance has become frivolous / Destroying the divine concept of true love / Men date women without the intention to marry them / Where is chivalry heading? / Where is the youth heading? / Where is the beauty-struck youth heading?

Traditional embroidered costumes are disappearing / Traditional earrings are disappearing / Traditional silk stoles and robes are disappearing / Traditional veils and the veiled women are disappearing / Our traditional values are disappearing!

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows


Water filled vessels once sat on your head / No one could bare the radiance of your ethereal beauty / Praises were showered upon you in every direction you traveled / Anklets embraced your feet with exaltation / But now you seem to have forgotten your own true value / Your graceful elegance is dissipating / Forgetting your old folk tunes

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows

A contemporary, globalising India is witnessing a violent clash between a socially and politically resurgent, patriarchal, religious and deeply conservative ‘old India’ and a socially and politically rising, urban, educated and mobile young generation ‘new India’ – who are demanding gender and sexual freedom. This is a struggle between static and motion. Noteworthy are the post-December 16th 2012 and 2013 demonstrations against female sexual violence (after the high profile case of a gang-rape of a female student on a bus in Delhi), the recriminalisation of homosexuality (through the reinstatement of the British colonial penal code Section 377) in 2013 and the protests thereafter, and the 2014 Kiss of Love movement against moral policing and for the right to kiss in public (which religious forces define as an obscene act). All the while, Gurdas Maan bemoans, “the veiled women are disappearing”. On the question of disappearance then, his myopia is telling.

The Hindu newspaper states that “nearly three million girls, one million more than boys” were “‘missing’ in 2011 compared to 2001 and there are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981.” Alka Gupta, in a Unicef India press release, observes: “The decline in child sex ratio in India is evident by comparing the census figures. In 1991, the figure was 947 girls to 1000 boys. Ten years later it had fallen to 927 girls for 1000 boys. Since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio with the state of Punjab being the worst.”


KumKum DasGupta in The Guardian newspaper notes that while “census data shows that India’s overall gender ratio is improving, its child gender ratio is on the decline: between 1991 and 2011, the country’s female-male gender ratio rose from 927:1,000 to 940:1,000, but its child gender ratio fell from 945:1,000 to 914: 1,000.”

2012 Birth Sex Ratio World Map. Source: World DataBank, Gender Statistics, The World Bank and United Nations (Wikimedia Commons)

2012 Birth Sex Ratio World Map. Source: World DataBank, Gender Statistics, The World Bank and United Nations (Wikimedia Commons)

In a globalising India, there is disturbing evidence that the practice of female foeticide and infanticide in certain parts of the country, such as Punjab, is getting worse rather than better, and that this is in part being aided by the technology of global capitalism. As Alka Gupta comments: “Social discrimination against women, already entrenched in Indian society, has been spurred on by technological developments that today allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighbourhood unchecked.” She concludes:

“experts warn that the demographic crisis will lead to increasing sexual violence and abuse against women and female children, trafficking, increasing number of child marriages, increasing maternal deaths due to abortions and early marriages and increase in practices like polyandry.”

KumKum DasGupta also concludes:

“The skewed gender ratio has given rise to a system of bride-buying in the affected states: although girls and young women are lured into marriage by promises of a happy and secure life, once purchased they can be exploited, denied basic rights, put to work as maids and, in many cases, abandoned.”

The state of Punjab is not marginal to these trends, it is central.

Map showing the safety for women, based on the Female Safety Index (FSI) in the Well Being Index India Report 2013 by Tata Strategic Management Group (Wikimedia Commons)

Map showing safety for women, based on the Female Safety Index (FSI) in the Well Being Index India Report 2013 by Tata Strategic Management Group (Wikimedia Commons)

In December 2014, The Indian Express newspaper reported that a 17 year old victim of rape was set ablaze in Punjab. Three of the six men who set fire to her were those accused of her rape. In April 2015, also in Punjab, the same newspaper recorded that a teenager jumped from a moving bus to her death, after she and her mother were sexually assaulted by one of the bus workers.

Perhaps Gurdas Maan’s social observation and words of advice vis-à-vis Punjab’s drug addiction problem are more astute than his commentary on gender and sexual relations. He sings:

Drugs are ruining the youth of our country / Reducing their bodies to bones that sound like Shiva’s drums of death / Bad politics is killing the ambition of our youth / Cheating has become the norm / Oh Maan, there is no guarantee of what the future holds / Remember our wise ancestors said that holding grudges against your circumstances will never bring you any good. So be positive!

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows


My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty / It belongs to the heavenly star / It also belongs to holy men under the banyan tree / My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty

Punjab’s drug addiction problem is an epidemic one. A study by one of the state’s universities estimates that 70% of young men in Punjab are addicted to drugs or alcohol. A report by Al Jazeera reveals that corrupt politicians in the state are pandering to this widespread addiction by supplying drugs during election time to win votes. On the social factors driving this epidemic, the report insightfully concludes that:

“Drug abuse in Punjab owes much to the state’s declining agricultural economy, growing unemployment, the travails of rural life and Punjabi machismo.”

The material reality of Punjab is crucial context to the social problems it faces, be that its drug epidemic or its high suicide incidence rate. Mallika Kaur of Foreign Policy observes:

“Stagnant prices for produce, a lack of crop insurance and loan-forgiveness policies, and an unregulated lending market have left many farmers in insurmountable debt, fueling the disturbing suicide trend. The problem is particularly acute in Punjab. The epicenter of India’s agriculture bounty, Punjab reportedly has the highest rate of farmer suicide among the country’s states.”

She proceeds to stress the gender dynamics and implications of such a reality:

“While suicide victims are overwhelmingly men, the surviving women are particularly vulnerable to problems after their husbands, fathers, or other male family members are gone. Female heads of households traditionally have little earning power or independence. In some cases, families have dealt with multiple suicides, and the dependents, unable to cope with the resulting economic burden, also resort to the ultimate step of desperation. Widows routinely face disinheritance and dislocation, or abuse at the hands of their in-laws, while children – especially girls – are affected by abrupt removal from schools, nutritional deficits, and at times even bonded labor.”

Still, Gurdas Maan sings: “Remember our wise ancestors said that holding grudges against your circumstances will never bring you any good. So be positive! […] My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty.” Here Gurdas Maan wants to replace one opium for another, rather than politically confront and challenge the full and complex realities of socio-economic upheaval. Marx’s words come to mind:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” (Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

Perhaps the 50 million dollar Gurdas Maan is part of the illusion: a figure too uncritically idolised alongside the other gods.

Fanfare of Gurdas Maan in Punjab (Wikimedia Commons)

Fanfare of Gurdas Maan in Punjab (Wikimedia Commons)

India’s Partition and more-than-fictional geographies

“It wasn’t until some years later – when I realized the full scope and dimension of the massacres – that I comprehended the concealed nature of the ice lurking deep beneath the hypnotic and dynamic femininity of Gandhi’s non-violent exterior.” Lenny, in Bapsi Sidhwas’s Cracking India


Partition of Punjab, 1947 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Partition of India in August 1947 had, at its epicentre, the Punjab – my ancestral home. From 1947 to 1948, it is estimated that over 15 million people were uprooted, and that between 1 and 2 million people were killed in the sectarian violence and mutual genocide between, on the one hand, Hindus and Sikhs, and, on the other, Muslims. As a collection of facts, the horror of what happened that year has never deeply struck me until now. Having recently read Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India, I’ve been asking myself: what atrocities would my family and others have witnessed, and indeed been victim to and perpetrated? My parents were young children in 1947 and 1948, in the villages of the Punjab, and only now, as a consequence of my questions, are their own oral histories coming to light; and what they relay has an eerie similarity to what Singh and Sidhwa have already told me.

Train to Pakistan and Cracking India are novels, works of fiction, which offer incredibly rich insights into the social and cultural geographies of everyday life during the time of India’s Partition. These two works are a gateway into a reality, and a way of processing and understanding this reality through empathic emotional connection.


While the village of Mano Majra, situated on the border of a newly drawn India and Pakistan, in Train to Pakistan is not real, in a sense, the scene set and the subsequent unfolding drama are real.

Mano Majra is a tiny place. It has only three brick buildings, one of which is the home of the moneylender Lala Ram Lal. The other two are the Sikh temple and the mosque.

Although Mano Majra is said to be on the banks of the Sutlej River, it is actually half a mile away from it. In India villages cannot afford to be too close to the banks of rivers. Rivers can change their moods with the seasons and alter their courses without warning. The Sutlej is the largest river in the Punjab.

Mano Majra has always been known for its railway station. Since the bridge has only one track, the station has several sidings where less important trains can wait, to make way for the most important.

Through Singh’s superb character development on this modest geographical stage, the surreal nature of a gradually transpiring barbarity of India’s Partition – at first so remote and abstract, and then all too close – is portrayed at its most human (and inhuman) level. From a train full of butchered corpses pulling in at the train station, to bodies of people and animals floating in the river, to a harmonious and simple village torn apart. The badmash character of Juggut Singh who lives in Mano Majra is also make-believe; he becomes an unexpected moment of hope, as he precariously balances on the bridge, amidst a sinking pit of human depravity and despair.

The following passage includes the character of Iqbal (an outsider and left-wing political agitator, who arrives just before the violence of Partition reaches Mano Majra) and his exchange with Meet Singh, the head of the village Gurdwara.

“Everyone is welcome to his religion. Here next door is a Muslim mosque. When I pray to my Guru, Uncle Imam Baksh calls to Allah. How many religions do they have in Europe?”

“They are all Christians of one kind or another. They do not quarrel about their religions as we do here. They do not really bother very much about religion.”

“So I have heard,” said Meet Singh ponderously. “That is why they have no morals. The sahibs and their wives go about with other sahibs and their wives. That is not good, is it?”

“But they do not tell lies like we do and they are not corrupt and dishonest as so many of us are,” answered Iqbal.

He got out his tin opener and opened a tin of sardines. He spread the fish on a biscuit and continued to talk while he ate.

“Morality, Meet Singhji, is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals. So they have religion. …”

Shortly after, Iqbal meets some more villagers.

“Well, Babuji,” began the Muslim, “Tell us something. What is happening in the world? What is all this about Pakistan and Hindustan?”

“We live in this little village and know nothing,” the lambardar put in. “Babuji, tell us, why did the English leave?”

Iqbal did not know how to answer simple questions like these. Independence meant little to nothing to these people. They did not even realise that it was a step forward and that all they needed to do was to take the next step and turn the make-believe political freedom into a real economic one.

Iqbal tried to take the offensive. “Why don’t you people want to be free? Do you want to remain slaves all your lives?”

After a long silence the lambardar answered: “Freedom must be a good thing. But what will we get out of it? Educated people like you, Babu Sahib, will get the jobs the English had. Will we get more lands or more buffaloes?”

“No,” the Muslim said. “Freedom is for the educated people who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians – or the Pakistanis.”

Iqbal, full of big political ideas and belief in his own ability to alter the course of history, in the end gives up his fight. In the closing narration of Train to Pakistan, it is the seeming hero who becomes the anti-hero, and the anti-hero the hero.

India is constipated with a lot of humbug. Take religion. For the Hindu, it means little besides caste and cow-protection. For the Muslim, circumcision and kosher meat. For the Sikh, long hair and hatred of the Muslim. For the Christian, Hinduism with a sola topee. For the Parsi, fire-worship and feeding vultures. Ethics, which should be the kernel of a religious code, has been carefully removed.

If you look at things as they are, he told himself, there does not seem to be a code either of man or of God on which one can pattern one’s conduct. Wrong triumphs over right as much as right over wrong. Sometimes its triumphs are greater. What happens ultimately, you do not know. In such circumstances what can you do but cultivate an utter indifference to all values? Nothing matters. Nothing whatever…


For me, Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India is an even more powerful read. During Partition, the kidnapping, rape, disfigurement, and dismemberment of women were widespread. Those who survived became known as fallen women, burdened by shame and familial disownment. Through Sidhwa’s central characters of Ayah and the Ice Candy Man – as seen through the lens of the book’s narrator, a young girl called Lenny – such horror is startlingly depicted. And through the feminism and strength of Lenny’s Godmother comes hope.

The book starts with Lenny’s mental map, her geography.

My world is compressed. Warris Road, lined with rain gutters, lies between Queens Road and Jail Road: both wide, clean, orderly streets at the affluent fringes of Lahore.

A dialectic of Lenny’s childhood naivety and maturing wisdom gives the book’s narration a hauntingly beautiful and authentic feel to the Partition in Lahore (a city which fell on the Pakistan side of the Punjab).

There is much disturbing talk. India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to Godmother’s then?

It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves – and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols. Ayah is no longer just my all-encompassing Ayah – she is also a token. A Hindu.

Lenny’s Warris Road is transformed.

Processions are becoming a part of the street scene. …

Adi and I slip past the attention of our vigilants and join the tiny tinpot processions that are spawned on Warris Road. We shout ourselves hoarse crying, “Jai Hind! Jai Hind!” or “Pakistan Zindabad!” depending on the whim or the allegiance of the principal crier.

Even at this point, poor Lenny has little to no idea of the barbarism that is about to be unleashed and of her own accidental role in this for her beloved nanny, Ayah.

In the empirical study Midnight Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition, Nisid Haraji (2015, page xviii- xix) reflects:

“Nearly seventy years later, Partition has become a byword for horror. Instead of joining hands at their twinned births, India and Pakistan would be engulfed by some of the worst sectarian massacres the modern world has ever seen. Non-Muslims [Sikhs and Hindus] on one side of the new border in the Punjab and Muslims on the other descended with sword and spear and torch on the minorities that lived among them. An appalling slaughter ensued. Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits. Foot caravans of destitute refugees fleeing the violence stretched for 50 miles or more. As the peasants trudged along wearily, mounted guerrillas charged out of the tall crops that lined the road and culled them like sheep. Special refugee trains, filled to bursting when they set out, suffered repeated ambushes along the way. All too often they crossed the border in funereal silence, blood seeping from under their carriage doors.”

A narrative on feminism and gay politics in India

This is a full recording of my session at the All The Rage conference on Saturday 28th February 2015. See also, my post, I’m with motion. and my podcast, Lessons from India: towards a global analysis of sexual violence.

Tarvinder Kaur One

1979, New Delhi: “Women are not for burning”.

Tarvinder Kaur Two

The death of Tarvinder Kaur – burnt to death for an ‘inadequate’ dowry: a pivotal moment for India’s feminist movement.

I’m with motion

Globalisation – i.e., the time-space compression of the past twenty to twenty five years – is dialectical. A new phase of capitalism has given birth to contradictory tensions that have long been pregnant and kicking. Globalisation is an interplay of forces demanding the future and forces heralding the past. It straddles both static and motion. I’m with motion.

The globalising space of twenty-first century India occupies several centuries at once. Urbanisation and capitalist development, the mass entry of women into the workforce, and the expansion of information and communications technology, have generated city spaces and conditions of existence where a head-on collision between an old, feudalistic, religious and patriarchal India is violently clashing with an aspiring, new generation India. On the one hand, the ruling party of the BJP, and its student wing ABVP and fascistic ally Shiv Sena, indicate the flourishing of a deeply unpleasant, reactionary and dangerous, religious fundamentalism that is both fuelled and affronted by globalisation. On the other hand, from the protests triggered by the 16th December 2012 Delhi gang rape, to gay rights’ activists protesting in response to the Supreme Court’s recriminalisation of homosexuality in December 2013 (by reinstating the 1860 British colonial penal code of Section 377 that was decriminalised in 2009), to the “Kiss of Love” protests of late October to November 2014 against moral policing of public affection, a layer of urban, young, educated, socially mobile men and women, straight and gay, are demanding rights and freedoms over their bodies, their sexualities, their genders, and their cities. They are courageously taking on the State and religious fundamentalists in a struggle over the meaning of Indian culture. It’s an extraordinary chapter in the history of India. What’s more, the Indian diaspora should take note, for it has more in common with static than with motion – the kernel of India’s globalising, urbanising cities, and the generation born from it, is where the fight is coming.

Delhi, 22nd December 2012: Police use tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the huge crowd of protesters in response to the gang rape of a female student on a bus on the night of 16th December (Reuters Images):

Protesters chant anti-police slogans (Getty Images):

Delhi and Bombay, 15th and 16th December 2013. Gay rights’ activists protest against Section 377 (Reuters and First Post Images): 

Delhi, 9th November 2014. Indian police attempt to stop “Kiss of Love” protesters from marching to the Hindu right-wing, nationalist RSS headquarters (AFP and PTI Images):

Both straight and gay activists have been brought together in the “Kiss of Love” protests against moral policing (AP Images):

See also, my podcast: “Lessons from India: towards a global analysis of sexual violence”

Marxism 101: Globalisation, Culture, and the Coke Studio India

So what might “Zariya” – a composition by India’s foremost composer AR Rahman, which brings together a traditional chant by Nepalese Buddhist nun, Ani Choying, traditional lyrics sung by Jordanian Farah Siraj, and a Hindi chorus – tell us about globalisation? As an audio-visual cultural offering, readily available via social media, it is an exquisite piece of hybridisation and connection across place, space, and time. Note also the backdrop (and indeed foreground), the Coke Studio India, which was a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. Moreover then, what might an unhappy story of Coca Cola in India tell us about globalisation and does this taint “Zariya” (a commodified song about compassion, motherhood, and happiness)?

The Coca Cola Company entered the Indian market in 1956 but left in 1977 when it refused both to comply with the country’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and to disclose its secret recipe to the Indian Government. Coca Cola returned in 1993 in the context of market liberalisation. Since its return, a mass movement has developed in India against the Coca Cola Company to demand it is held accountable for the contamination of groundwater and soil, water depletion and shortages, and land grabs.


(Wikimedia Commons)

The Guardian newspaper noted in 2003: “The largest Coca-Cola plant in India is being accused of putting thousands of farmers out of work by draining the water that feeds their wells, and poisoning the land with waste sludge that the company claims is fertiliser.” The Ecologist reported in 2009 that while: “not all such disputes are as simple as ‘corporate giant versus local community’. What they do have in common, according to Tom Palakudiyil of Water Aid, is that it is ultimately the poor who lose out. ‘What we have seen happening with Coca-Cola has been happening all over the country, largely between the well-to-do and the not-so-well-to-do. The richer side is able to acquire powerful pumps and extract more and more water with no limits. In the case of big corporations like Coca-Cola, or other big industries that have a lot of power over the local government, they are able to get their pipelines to bypass the villages altogether,’ said Palakudiyil.” Most recently (again reported in The Ecologist) is a case from the state of Uttar Pradesh, where, in line with popular protest, officials have moved to demolish an ‘illegal’ Coca Cola bottling plant from community-owned land.

In Chapter Fifteen of Volume One of Capital, Karl Marx states a conclusion apt for the present-day: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer.”

Back to “Zariya”, a composition by AR Rahman and a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. In Grundrisse, Karl Marx argues that the appropriation of human culture in the commodified form cannot simply be regarded as capitalism’s quest to exploit to the detriment of our social being and development, neither can it be celebrated as offering an unconditional sphere of freedom. Marx draws an analogy of capitalism as an autonomous “animated monster” (or leviathan) able to lead us, as workers, “by an alien will and an alien intelligence”. He recognises that individuals increasingly feel isolated from one another, and indifferent to their work, through the capitalist-driven fragmentation of the labour force. What Marx calls “the great civilizing influence of capital”, an explicit recognition of the radical potential within capitalism, is of most interest here. He recognises that individuals identify themselves ever more through the tunnels of cultural complexity penetrating within capitalism. It is by the use of a continually differentiating production/consumption process that individuals are open to a new kind of wealth, social wealth, with capital offering a cultural dynamism on both a politico-economic and an individual level. “[N]either bound to particular objects, nor to a particular manner of satisfaction”, individual consumption (whilst a reaction to production) is “not qualitatively restricted, only quantitatively”, thus it has the possibility of “fall[ing] outside the economic relation” . In other words, the relation of capital to labour exploits us socially, however it does not crudely determine the inner configuration of new use-values.

In sum, in its use-value “Zariya” is ours, and what is ours too is the struggle against social and environmental exploitation by global capital like the Coca Cola Company. Marxism 101.